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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cthon: First Age

Welcome to the first post detailing my World of Cthon cosmology!

I'm happy to announce that, along with the previous post and the next ones, this series/project will be part of a "blog carnival" as of now titled "If I Ruled The Multiverse" (Twitter hashtag: #5eplanes), aimed at writing our ideal cosmology for D&D Next, but more than anything just at jotting our cosmological thoughts out!
An idea of Richard Green, of whom you can read the related blog post here, along with the rest of his very interesting blog, while you're there! Our great looking logo is instead made by Symatt!

As it is natural for this particular cosmology, which aims to be so "concentrated" that it inevitably also becomes a psuedo-setting , I'm going to start from the origins, talking about the First Age, dominated by the Elder Gods.

A note for those not wanting to read the first post first, even if this First Age is not the age in which games should be set (although it could be, at DM's discretion and players' will), the World of Cthon's peculiarity is that these ages, and the world they created, are not lost in time, but merely in space. This First Age becomes the Underdark of the Second Age, and goes even further down to constitute the deepest parts of Underdark and even the Abyss of the First Age, which is default age in which adventures are set.

This cosmology doesn't aim at a complete transposition of classic D&D planes, but its equivalent of planes often include either the traits of classic planes, parts of them, or sometimes even those planes in their entirety.

Since the closest equivalent of the planes in my setting are these "ages" which also have very different physical worlds connected to them, and which naturally change their position  appearance, and function over time, I should describe each age from three perspectives: its own, and the ones of the other two. Although the most relevant perspective is that of the Third Age, which is the "prime material / natural world as we know it", I'll also give more detail to each age's own perspective  to describe how the world was different during it.

In the most relevant sections, I'll also add some "conversion notes", describing which planes I have incorporated and where, and which godly (or not) entities I have transformed into deities in Cthon, and what does this deity status mean (it's not always the same "type of godhood", or power level).

The most "meta-gaming" info, for DMs, will be written in italics.

The World of The First Age

The earth was young during the First Age, and all but completely inhospitable.

The driving force of this age is, contrary to what sages of later ages could think, Life. Life was young in the First Age, and as all young beings, it was strong, curious, and without self-control. Life was so strong that it created the most astounding and gigantic flora and fauna that the World had ever seen. And the most terrible.

Where there is so much life anyway, there is also a lot of decay. Beings sometimes refused to die, so powerful was the Life Force during the First Age. But this also meant that they stayed alive while decaying. It was undeath, although in a primitive state like everything else. And just as with everything else in this age, nothing followed a fixed rule, not even death and undeath. Some beings simply died, some others didn't even materially decay, their flesh and "animus" much more resilient than those of later life forms.

Beings that defy reason and classification abounded in the First Age, as the force of life exploded without control. Some sages think that some of the products of this age might come from outside the World, while others think that rather than hosting alien beings, it was the world itself to be "alien" in these remote times.

The physical world of the First Age.Life force was so strong during this age, that certain features that are normally made of earth and stone during later ages, were made of living vegetation, or worse, in the First Age. Entire mountains made by nothing more than gigantic trees growing on top of each other, immense inter-connected bridges of living wood and foliage chaotically climbing towards the dense sky, small seas made of living, fetid slimes, and more unfathomable features of this kind were common during the First Age.

Temperature was unbearably hot during this time, and humidity so high that the air itself felt more like thick mist.

Gigantic rain forests and thickly vegetated swamps were the most common terrain type, although they can't be compared with later equivalents of these terrains, due to dimensions, the aforementioned features, and the general alien appearance.

The races of the First Age.While humans and demi-humans were primitive and weak, hiding themselves in the handful of relatively safe places of the whole world, hiding from a world that could kill them with overpowering ease, other intelligent races dominated the world.

Reptilian and amphibious races enjoyed the climate and morphology of the world of the First Age, so in different parts of the world, creatures later known as Lizardfolk, Troglodytes, Yuan-Ti, and Kuo-Toas built the first artificial stone structures on land or superficial waters, while Sahuaghin, Illithid, Locathas, and even stranger creatures (such as the powerful Aboleths) conquered the depths of the earth and seas.

Nagas, Couatls, and other powerful creatures bloomed in this age too, battling with dinosaurs and other gigantic behemoths too strange to be classifiable.
Dragons for example, instead of being divided into clearly identifiable races and species, were still not very differentiated from other reptilian creatures, including Hydras, so every dragon (and there were many) was a unique-looking monster, sometimes becoming so powerful and long-lived as to acquired godhood.

Insectoid creatures of every kind and every degree of intelligence were also very common in this age, often forming empires under the humid earth or above it.

Many demons roamed the earth too, and either ruled lesser races or swarmed the parts of the world that were too inhospitable even for the dominant races of the First Age. They were so powerful for a reason: they were spawns of the Elder Gods themselves.

Magic in the First Age.Magic as we know it didn't exist in the First Age. The most common and closest equivalent of magic among many of the mentioned intelligent races was Psionics.

The second most common kind is "Eldritch magic", sometimes called witchcraft or "black magic", the one mastered by Warlocks. This was the equivalent of Divine Magic, since the beings that granted these powers were either Elder Gods or their vassals.

Primal magic was also present but different, more primitive. Natural Spirits were absent in the First Age, and at the same time, all nature was imbued with mystical power. Because of this, Primal magic existed but it was more of an independent phenomenon that either blessed or cursed individual beings chaotically, a bit like Sorcery in later ages.

Necromancy is the only form of traditionally Arcane or Divine magic that existed in the First Age. It is said it was mastered by an Elder God first, or that it was like Primal Magic, connected to the superior strength that Life itself had in the First Age. So much that death was easily overcome, although with horrid consequences.

The Elder Gods and the end of the First Age.The most powerful creatures of this age, sometimes attained levels of intelligence and supernatural power high enough to be considered true gods.

These are the true undisputed masters of the First Age, but also the most probable culprits of its disastrous end.

Constantly vying for domination, these earth-walking gods, often of colossal dimensions, clashed in combats that were both physically and mystically terrible. The earth and sometimes the fabric of reality itself suffered so much damage, that at the end of the First Age, a disaster of planetary proportions struck the world, leading to the immense changes in the geography of it, that finally shifted and buried the First Age's World in the far depths of the earth, making the world's surface virgin again.

Life flourished after the disaster, but not anymore with the violence and chaos of the First Age. As such, living physical beings as powerful as the Elder Gods never walked the world again. But many of them were too powerful to die even in the great disaster that ended their age... So they either sleep or crawl in the immense innards of the world, dreaming or plotting their revenge against the World itself.

Planar features, and the First Age after its end.

The First Age World shifted into the underground after its disastrous end, and became the underdark of the Second Age World, and the hells, and abysses of the Third Age.

But just as the Second Age World didn't all go underground, being in part enclosed in wonderful mystical places that are "parallel" to the world (the Feywild, for example), the First Age World too gifted the World of mystical "places out of space".

The "Shadow Web"

It is not known if some Elder God was responsible for the creation of this "place outside of space", or if like some sages say it is all part of the will of Gaia, the Mother Earth itself, but during the First Age, a mystical parallel world was born. More than parallel, it is actually "woven inside the world", and if walked into by a knowledgeable being, it can make travel between very distant places incredibly short. The sages that propose an out-of-this-world origin for some Elder Gods also say that these dark ethereal tunnels could have been the "short-cut" by which those beings had arrived on the earth.

Whatever its origin, this "web of ways" is woven inside the world, unknown and unreachable to all but a few after the fall of the First Age World.

Natural sages and shamans say that this place is nothing but the roots of Iggdrasil, the World Tree, and while these theories are scoffed by academic sages, they could be actually closer to the reality. In fact, the similarities with the Feywild are apparent, and if it's true that the Feywild is like the "canopy of the World Tree", then this place could very well be the roots.

The academics call it with many names: the Plane of Shadow, the Shadowfell, the Webway, and other dark names such as "Shadow Web", which combines its web-like nature with the darkness trait. And it is in fact a dark place, accessible only from the deepest shadows. In some places of power, magic is not required to enter this world, but it is surely much better (and safer) to know appropriate magic or powers if one wants also to get out from it.

Legends and stories abound of portions of the First Age World, sometimes even cities and their inhabitants, encased in folds and pockets of the Shadow Web.
Stories of "bogeymen", shadow demons, and other malevolent creatures appearing out of thin air in the shadows to kidnap children and drag them into the darkness may very well be connected with this world.

What is sure is that by mastering the appropriate forms of magic, one can use the Shadow Web to travel large distances in the Material World in short times, even more so than by travelling in the Feywild. The problem is that even if the Feywild too can be dangerous for the time distortions and its luring nature that could make a traveller unable to leave but at least passing the time in an often blissful state, the Shadow Web can directly kill the travelers that take it as a short cut, either by ambush of shadow creatures or by transporting the traveller to the wrong place, which is often deep into the abysses or hells that were once the First Age World in which the Shadow Web was born (or created).

The seas: the closest frontier of the First Age world.

The pieces of the First Age World that didn't go deep underground, or folded into the Shadow Web, remained closer to the later World, although in a still largely inaccessible place. And this place is the sea.

Some of the aquatic monsters of the First Age still lurk into the seas of the Second and Third Age, and the raids of Sahuaghin, the ships capsized by Kraken, and the cult of Dagon are all reminders that the ancient world is still thriving in the depths of the sea.

The First Age World in the Second Age: Elders versus Titans.In the Second Age, most of the powerful Elder Gods were asleep, but a great many of the lesser ones and the spawns of the greater ones could freely roam the earth after they found out the exits of the mazes of caves that was now their subterranean world. 
The Shadow Web, which it is said was connected with the skies in the First Age, remained "higher" compared to the rest of the First World: an intermediate place between the shallow underground and the deep places where the First World was sealed off. So in this age it was a bit different compared to what it became during the Third. It was less of a web of shortcuts, and more of a "transitional realm" that drained towards it the mortals, when their light essences were free from their bodies. After death.
It became the Realm of the Dead, also called Hades, and a large portion of it became ruled by the Titan God of Death.
It was only after the magical disaster that ended the Second Age that the Shadow Web actually became web-like, connecting places that were materially distant.

The Elemental Titans were largely individualistic, but also, for the first time in history, gregarious. While the Elder Gods were all profoundly different and as such could nearly only relate with each other through conflict, Titan Gods were more of a great family, with varied relationships between each other. As such, when some Elder God crawled up to the surface, threatening of destruction the whole world, the Titan Gods often grouped together to confront the menace, and uniting their forces, they more often than not won these conflicts. Even so, they seldom managed to kill the Elder Gods they fought with, so they mostly gave them in custody to their brother god of Hades (sometimes known as Hades himself), who was a sage of the underworld and known the best places to imprison the weakened Elder Gods.

So most of the artificial godly prisons of the imprisoned Elder Gods were made during the Second Age by the Titan Gods.

It is also said that some of the Primal Spirits (the Gods of Life and Nature of the Second Age) were connected to the First Age, even that they could have been transformed Elder Gods. Note: this hook can be used to add a twist to certain campaigns: a primal spirit or forest god is secretly an Elder God that perhaps covets revenge against the earth itself. The greatest of twists, that I used for my "cosmology template" described in the previous series of blog posts, could be that Corellon, the Forest God of the Second Age and god of the elves, might be himself a transformed Elder God, perhaps even one of those coming from outside of the world, making elves and fairies a force that is secretly bent on destruction..!

The First Age World in the Third Age.After the magical disaster that ended the Second Age, the First Age World should have become even more distant, and it did mostly. But it was also fragmented, just like the Shadow Web actually became a web, distorted by the disaster.

If the Second Age showed order in most thing, including the relationship with the First Age and the returning Elder Gods, in the Third Age everything is less certain, less defined, less known. The now distorted Shadow Web could bring ancient horrors back into the world on a whim, and the underworld, now largely formed by Second Age World portions shifted to the depths, is still connected with the First Age World, which is also less solidly sealed off than in the Second Age.

An important and unforeseen role of the deep First World places in the Third Age is that they became for some reason among the very few material (and immaterial) places from which the realms of the Celestial Gods could be reached.
The daring mortals who would like to reach the incredibly distant realms of the gods before death, would have to travel to the incredibly dangerous depths named Hells and Abysses first, and aided by the dark shortcuts of the Shadow Web that in those places still forms knots nexuses, they would then reach the ethereal and astral realms of certain Celestial Gods.

Planes that fit the First Age, and their locations

s a footnote, I'd like to specify what traditional
planes are part of the big "meta-plane" that is the First Age World.
  • The Abyss: this is a no brainer. The deepest part of the world, near its core (earth science not withstanding), is the Abyss. It contains probably countless layers because space changes here, due to the warping influences of the Shadow Web, which also has its "nexus" here. Going to the Abyss is like going back in time into the First Age: everything is alive, everything is hungry.
    Location: not only the deepest part of the World: the layers need not to be stacked up vertically. In the Second Age there was more or less a vertical order, but in the Third Age everything fragmented more, and important layers, such as The Shadowsea (Dagon's realm) and the Gaping Maw (Demogorgon's realm) went up and they're now touching the earthly seas in some points, or the seas of the Underdark.
  • The Shadowfell /Plane of Shadow: this is the Shadow-Web. In the Second Age it was also the Realm of the Dead or Hades, while in the third age it became more of a "web", justifying the travelling power of spells such as Shadow Walk. It still contains some souls of the Second Age, and many of them became Shades. The truly Shadowfell-like properties come in the form of the pockets and folds of the Shadow-Web. These may include places from multiple Ages, all characterized by unnatural passing of time, some sort of still time.
    Portals don't have many reasons to exist in The World Of Cthon due to the physical location of the planes, but the few portals that do exist, always use the Shadow Web as the (unreliable) shortcut to anywhere that it is.
    even a "non place" like the Shadow Web has some sort of location in The World of Cthon. In the Third Age, it's just very dark places. Sometimes, due to the power and fixations of the dead/undead spirits that haunt the Shadow Web, some sort of "planar merging" can occur in places where very dark deeds are committed and the like. This could result in these places being "engulfed" into the Shadow-Web, or the Shadow-Web "opening" into the world.
  • The Far Realm: can be earthly in The World of Cthon: it's the point of the setting! Dominions of particularly alien Elder Gods (that is, those that in D&D were classified as Aberrant entities or perhaps as Obyrith demons), are places that look alien themselves. And they are equivalent to pockets of Far Realm. If using the option of making these Elders come from the stars, the Far Realm pockets could be near to portals or conduits that take to the "outer Far Realm" from where these Elders came.
    Location: as with the Abyss, it is better to have these places far underground. But again, the magical disaster that ended the Second Age might have shifted things randomly. Plus, since these places could be connected with the dreams of the Elder Gods themselves (just as the Feywild is like the dream of some Forest God and Primal Spirit of the Second Age), there's always the option of making the plane "leak" into the surface. This could happen where secret cults dedicated to the Elders manage to call the attention of the dreaming minds of the entities they crazily venerate.
  • The Nine Hells: although Devils are not directly related to Elder Gods or Demons, as I explain in the later post, the Nine Hells work very well as a "smaller Abyss", closer to the surface or at least the shallow Underdark, since in the Nine Hells were born in The Second Age. They were also originally very connected to Hades, that is the Shadow Web before it became a web, when it was a more defined place in the shallow Underdark. For this reason or some other eldritch one connected with the history and origin of Devils, the Ninth Hell is also a "nexus of the Shadow Web", thus an important place to reach if one wants to travel to the secluded godly dominions of the Third Age (and this of course is tailor-made to represent a Dante's like voyage!)
    Location: as already said, simply on top of the Abyss works well enough, so somewhere near to the middle of the Underdark there could be entrances to the Nine Hells.
  • Other traditionally outer or inner planes: in no particular order and without much explanation, here are the planes that in some way or another are parts of the First Age World and are thus buried deep underground in The World of Cthon during the Second and Third ages.
    - Positive Energy Plane (not as a true plane, but some "unbearable wellspring of life" is "compatible" with the concept of the First Age World)
    - Negative Energy Plane (again not as an infinite plane, but as a place connected perhaps with the origin of the Shadow Web, which also makes the Shadow Web a place of death/undeath, where living creatures can't normally survive for long.
    - Limbo (a place with bits of everything dancing in chaos. It could contain also parts of the Second Age, mixed with parts of the First. Plus, Slaads make for a perfect race from the First Age)
    Pandemonium (another one connected to both Second and First age, could be the section of the Underdark where the Titans imprisoned some Elder Gods.)
    Tarterus (its strange spherical structure makes it perfect to represent the center of the Earth, making it the absolutely deepest part of the First Age World during the later Ages. As such, it could be another place where travel would be needed to reach Godly domains and such.)
    - Gehenna (not particularly fitting, but it could represent parts of the underground where the First or Second Great Disasters are still raging.)
    The River Styx (returns to be what it was meant to be: the great river of the Underworld leading to all the various "hells")
    - Tytherion (the domain of Tiamat and Zehir, two deities that with little modifications make perfect Elder Gods, could be contained into a vast but secluded pocket of the Shadow-Web, or even simply be a secluded part of the world (for example in a continen at an opposite longitude compared to the main inhabitated continent). In this case it could be the last remnant of the First Age to remain at the surface of the world.)